Minister: Shooting of black man by white officer racist
SUMMERVILLE, S.C. (AP) - The death of a black man shot in the back while fleeing a white police officer was the act of a racist cop, a minister told hundreds who gathered Saturday for the funeral of Walter Scott.
"All of us have seen the video," the Rev. George Hamilton, the minister at W.O.R.D. Ministries Christian Center, told an overflow congregation. "There is no doubt in my mind and I feel that Walter's death was motivated by racial prejudice." Authorities have not said whether race was a factor in the shooting.
Scott was a father of four and Coast Guard veteran whose death sparked outrage as another instance of a white law officer fatally shooting an unarmed black man under questionable circumstances. The shooting last weekend in North Charleston was captured on a dramatic cellphone camera video by a man who was walking past.
About 450 people including U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., the two black members of South Carolina's congressional delegation, gathered in the sanctuary of the church where Scott had worshipped.
About 200 more people waited outside beneath the portico of the church or under umbrellas in the rain because the sanctuary had reached capacity.
Hamilton called Michael Slager - the officer involved in the shooting and who has been charged with murder and fired - a disgrace to the North Charleston Police Department.
"This particular cop was a racist. You don't Tase a man and then shoot," the minister said. But he added "we will not indict the entire law enforcement community for the act of one racist."
Hamilton said that the Scott family could take comfort in the fact that Slager was captured on the video, was charged and will face justice.
Scott was remembered as a gentle soul and a born-again Christian. "He was not perfect," the minister said, adding that nobody is.
The two-hour service included spirituals and remembrances of the 50-year-old Scott.
Those who waited outside were able to enter at the end of the service and file by Scott's open casket covered in an American flag and surrounded with sprays of flowers.
Scott's family arrived in a fleet of three black limousines followed by several other vehicles. Dozens who were waiting outside held up their cellphones trying to capture the scene as Scott's casket was unloaded from the hearse and wheeled inside.
"You know, Walter touched a lot of people. He was very friendly with everyone. I don't think he ever met an enemy. So, there's a lot of people out here, just paying their respects to him and his legacy," said Tyrone Johnson, a Charlotte, North Carolina resident who was waiting before the service. He said he went to high school with Scott and one of his brothers.
After the funeral, Scott family attorney Chris Stewart said the pain behind this shooting would have hurt any color family. "The epidemic of powerless people being taken advantage of no matter what color, no matter what gender, no matter what belief system you have, needs to stop," he said.
"We're not going to let this case boil down to just racial issues because it's bigger than that," Stewart said. "It's a human issue."
Police initially said Scott was shot on April 4 during a tussle over Slager's department-issued Taser. But the video taken by the bystander and released last Tuesday showed Slager firing eight times as Scott ran away.
Scott was driving a 1991 Mercedes that he bought from a neighbor and was headed to an auto parts store when he was stopped, his brother Rodney Scott said.
Police said he had a broken taillight. Video from the police car's dashboard camera shows Slager asking Scott for his license and registration, then heading back to his cruiser before Scott gets out of the car and runs.
Scott's relatives have said they suspect he fled Slager out of fear of being jailed again over missed child support payments.
At the time he was stopped, Scott, who worked as a warehouse forklift operator, owed more than $18,000 in child support and court fees, according to Charleston County records.
Clyburn said he hoped some good could come from the tragedy.
"I think this is a catalyst to get people to face up to the fact that we've got problems in this country," he said. "I think this exposed something that is already there."
Clyburn also said that it didn't make sense for Scott to face jail for failing to pay child support. That caused Scott to lose a $35,000-a-year job, making it impossible for him to pay.
"If you want to collect child support, there's got to be income - and you ain't going to make much income from jail," Clyburn said.
Clyburn also said there need to be minimum standards, perhaps national standards, for evaluating law officers.
"It seems to me evaluation needs to be much more than whether or not you can shoot a gun," he said.
Scott, who grew up in North Charleston, said the incident provides an opportunity for local law enforcement agencies to re-evaluate their operations. On the national level, he said, it's a chance to promote the use of body cameras by police agencies nationwide.
Those who knew Scott remembered him as lighthearted and gentle. They describe a laid-back, fun-loving man who took his girlfriend dancing on weekends. Scott had been married twice, and proposed to his girlfriend Charlotte Jones about a week before he was killed.
Co-workers said Scott always seemed calm at work and would often stop to ask others how they were doing. He loved to talk about pro football, especially his favorite Dallas Cowboys, even in the spring, when the rest of the sports world had moved on to college basketball and March Madness.
Stanley Weldon of Summerville said before the service that he attended church with the Scott family.
"It's a sad day in the community and the church family to lose someone who was a member of our church," he said.
He added: "This is stressful but we have to turn this into a blessing and learn from it and the community will come together."
Associated Press reporter Alex Sanz contributed to this report.